Before coming to Grammie's house, Mama had lived in several horrible dwellings. Grammie had welcomed her Celesty and said to call her Grammie. She gave Mama a secure and peaceful shelter after her drug-addled mother abandoned her. Mama claimed it had changed her, given her hope.
Mama had always talked about the breakfasts Grammie fixed her as she served Saline her breakfast. “She raised chickens. So every morning Grammie cooked eggs, and she always served them with the best toast and jelly in the world. She traded extra eggs with a local farmer for milk. I enjoyed knowing I would always have something to eat in the morning.” Saline knew her mother had often gone hungry when in her mother's care.
Mama had also talked about other things Grammie did, like waiting with her for the school bus in the morning to make sure she was on it. When she arrived home, Grammie always asked about her day at school. She also encouraged Mama to get good grades and to go to university. Grammie must have planned this way ahead of Mama's graduation because Grammie's Will provided Mama’s tuition.
Mama did receive the tuition, but that was all she got, even though it was a lot.
Grammie died just before Mama graduated high school, and while Mama was at the funeral, her mother raided Grammie's house and took everything, explaining, “She took the valuable stuff in the house, including most of my clothes and the few pieces of jewelry Grammie gave me. Things of no value, like family photos, lay broken on the floor when I returned home. Do you know what I miss the most?” While her Mother talked, Saline remembered her fingers rubbing the single barrette she always wore.
Saline knew the answer. “The matching barrette to the one in your hair. The set Grammie gave you when you first came to live with her.”
Mama always smiled, saying, “Yes. She brushed my hair every night and braided it into pigtails. In the morning she brushed it again, braided it, and placed the barrettes to keep it all in place.”
Saline parked and locked her car, leaving her purse on the driver’s side floor. For several minutes she stood and stared at the house before she walked up the chunks of cracked and broken cement sidewalk. It ran in a straight line through the weeds and small seedling trees emerging from what once must have been a lawn.
The entrance stood open about a yard above the oak leaves, broken wood, and sawdust-like substance covering the ground. She guessed window glass also lay in the debris underfoot. Glad she had worn jeans below her dressier shirt and jacket, Saline grasped the door’s frame raised one foot to the frame's sill and pulled herself up. Her grasp of the frame with her left hand suddenly pulled free, the rotted wood giving way. She swayed as flung her arm forward to find a new hold on the inside of the frame. Regaining her hold and her balance, she gasped a breath of air.
Inside the old dwelling smelled of decay. “You’re crazy. This decrepit old house could fall apart any minute." She laughed, "And you are talking to yourself.” No one answered her.
Sunlight filled the interior from the empty window frames in the outer walls. Broken furniture, painted graffiti, decayed fallen house parts, and garbage filled the living room. A wall with no plaster covering the wall studs and a worn, wooden door frame gave entrance to the kitchen. A gaping hole devastated part of the floor, showing a few grayed floor beams which had supported the floor's now missing flooring. A staircase rose from the sidewall to her left.
Saline took slow steps on the floor moving around the side edges of the room. She carefully stepped on the beam sections underneath the wood floor planks. Several steps were missing from the staircase, and much of the railing lay broken. With her hands against the wall's remains, she took the steps, placing her feet on the sides of each step where the wood remained in place. Once upstairs, the hallway turned and extended the length of the house. She noted the ceiling above the hallway seemed to mostly remain in place, except at the far end, where bricks from the collapsed chimney littered the floor. Staying close to a sidewall, she walked down the hall. Five doorframes lined the hall's walls, each without a door. The first two openings, each on opposite sides of the hallway, were small bedrooms. The flooring was gone in one, as was the ceiling.
Midway down the hallway, another small doorway opened into a closet, which stood next to another doorway exposing an old bathroom where an old-fashioned tub, toilet, and washstand remained. The last doorway exposed a large room facing the front of the house. Here the gray floorboards remained in place. An old bed lay partially collapsed on the floor, its mattress’s filling scattered over the floor with the rubble of rusted springs rising from the mess. A decrepit old dresser stood against a sidewall. A old wooden bowl sat on the dresser’s top.
A pressing urge to see the bowl’s contents grasped Saline. “It’s got to be empty,” she said, trying to dissuade herself from crossing the floor. Her legs moved of their own accord. Staying close to the wall, she watched for nails in the cracked and buckling floor showing where they were attached to floor beams, gingerly stepping on them as she slowly made her way around the room’s edge. Her breath caught with each step, expecting the floor to give way. Reaching the bowl, Saline lifted it off the dresser.
Debris filled it. She sighed. “It figures. Your curiosity led nowhere.” Deciding she wanted to keep the bowl, she turned and started the arduous trip back to the doorway. With each step, she imagined the floor shivered beneath her feet. A few steps from the doorway, she heard a loud crack and realized she had not imagined the floor's shivering. She lunged to the doorway dropping the bowl. She clutched the doorway's wooden frame as the bedroom floor collapsed with a loud series of cracking. The dresser and rotting bed frame disappeared with the floor. A dust storm exploded in the room. Her grip on the frame tightened, but even that structure shook. Squeezing her eyes shut, her breath stopped as she expected the entire aging structure to fail.
She remained standing for several seconds or maybe minutes; she was not sure which. Inhaling a quick, nervous breath, she opened her eyes. The lingering dust choked her, and she coughed. Only a few wood planks, most with broken edges, lined the bedroom’s perimeter. All else was gone.
The hallway floor remained solid. The bowl she had dropped lay in the middle of it. A beam of sunlight from a new hole in the ceiling caused something on the floor to shine. With her hand still on the door frame, she slid into a squatting position, feeling a stinging splinter enter her palm. Righting the bowl, she saw the dusty garbage it held had fallen away. A pair of old clamp style earrings, a ring… and a barrette lay on the floor. She recognized it but had never expected to find it. Picking up the pieces and the bowl, she heard a noise below.
“Anyone here?” a masculine voice shouted from below.
She yelled, “Yes, but do not come up. I’m coming down.”
Moving as fast as safety allowed, Saline moved down the hallway and staircase. Once at the bottom of the staircase, she saw a uniformed man stood balancing in the doorway. Making her way around the room’s sides, she reached the doorway. The police officer was already on the ground outside the house. He lifted her out of the doorway to the ground.
“You know you are trespassing and in a very dangerous, derelict building? You could have been killed as that floor collapsed.”
“Yes, I know officer, but I was not trespassing. How did you know I was here?”
“A passing car noticed your car parked here. I'm Deputy Galen with the county sheriff’s office, and I was sent to investigate. We've tried to keep explorers out of this derelict.”
“This house belonged to my mother. She has paid taxes on it for years, but she had never visited it.” She turned to look at the old house. “Her memories, I think, were too powerful...and painful”
“Celeste Loopinz was your grandmother?”
“No, my great-grandmother. She left the property to my mother. Mama died two weeks ago. I recently learned she left the property to me.”
Deputy Galen looked at the derelict. “It needs to be demolished.”
She gave a shaky laugh. “Yes, it does! And I plan to have it knocked down, but I wanted to see it. I never have seen it except in photos. It saddens me to see it now.”
“You are not going back inside, are you?”
“No Deputy Dalen. I realize how dangerous it is. Does any company in the county do demolishion?”
Minutes later, with the name of the business the deputy gave her, she sat in her car watching the patrol car pull away. The sliver in her hand stung. She pulled it out with her teeth and giggled. The visor mirror showed her dust-covered face. “What a mess! Good thing my tetanus shots are up to date.” Turning to look at the old house, she took a few minutes to regain her composure. She glanced at the bowl sitting on the seat next to her. Tomorrow she would take the barrette to her mother’s grave and bury it there. “Grammie found it, Mom, and saved it for you, but she must have died before she could tell you.”
Memories are precious, Hope you have enjoyed your holidays, and please visit the following authors' posts: